The Sacred Church and the Secular Church

Pride March
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Today there is a sacred, orthodox Catholic Church, and there is a mundane or secular Catholic church. Today’s secularized Catholic “church” is not precisely a parallel, nor is it an ersatz, religious institution. This secular church is a profane perversion, a sacrilegious caricature, attempting not just to substitute for Christ’s Church but to hallow pan-sexualism, polyamory, neo-Pelagianism, socialism, and syncretism. It is the chaff amidst the wheat.

It is, in fact, a “knockoff”: an inferior if superficially similar version of the “real thing.” Like the specious seamless garment argument, ostensibly permitting sham Catholic politicians to support abortion because of their progressive stands on other issues, the secular church also offers a kind of cover: Catholics morally embarrassed by their faith or worried that they will lose favor or prestige by promoting and practicing orthodox Catholic teaching may repair to the “doctrinally progressive” secularized church, where there will be Holy Communion–and pablum-filled sermons–for all.

At one point, St. Paul—disgusted by the rapid adulteration (see Gal 1:6) of true teaching and by the consequent pervasive venality of the day—commanded Timothy to take appropriate action: “Some people…are teaching false doctrines, and you must order them to stop. . . . They want to be teachers of God’s law, but they do not understand their own words or the matters about which they speak with so much confidence” (1 Tm 1:3, 7 GNB).

In our day, many false teachers have slipped in among us, “persons who distort the message about the grace of our God in order to excuse their immoral ways, and who reject Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). St. Jude forcefully condemns all deliberate attempts to twist moral teaching which malevolently seek to justify “sexual immorality and perversion.” The result is that “they suffer the punishment of eternal fire as a plain warning to all” (Jude 7; cf. Rev 21:8).

By teacher, let us understand both those entrusted with preserving and promulgating the Gospel (both ordained and laymen) and soi-disant Catholics who lead our society. These self-styled Catholics are supposed to ground their political judgments in the natural moral law, rather than in mere personal advantage or lust for power. To list the false prelates, priests, professors, pundits, and politicians—to enumerate all those whom we “must order to stop”—would require scores of pages. Consider the relevance of Malachi: “But now you priests have turned away from the right path. Your teaching has led many to do wrong” (2:8).  

There have arisen around us in the Church itself and in ancillary Catholic Church enterprises (such as Catholic education, diocesan publications, charitable agencies, and ubiquitous liturgy committees) such adulteration of doctrine and consequent pervasive venality that, in too many places, we now have a simulacrum ecclesiastical body. This body tells us what we have itching ears to hear; it accommodates itself to the fads, fashions, and fantasies of the day; it endorses the lies, heresies, and ignes fatui of our time; and it denies the divine justice which gives to each person his due (Romans 2:6)

Here, then, will be a—if not the—critical problem in the immediate years ahead: who are the real Catholics? It is easy, if appalling, to find the extent of this calamity. There are innumerable Catholic parishes in which homilists will never preach Catholic truth about such moral issues as homosexuality, transgenderism, or even abortion or euthanasia (see Lam 2:14). There are innumerable colleges calling themselves “Catholic,” but which employ faculty whose teaching is at war with the deposit of faith. There are innumerable bishops who are unwilling to risk their personal popularity or social position by teaching, governing, or even sanctifying in an orthodox manner.

And much of this we have done to ourselves, Pogo-like (“We have met the enemy, and he is us”). Not for nothing does the Gospel warn us that “A man’s worst enemies will be members of his own household”—or diocese (Mt 10:36; cf. Ps 55:12-14). Thus do we have the scandalous rebuke by Cardinal Cupich of the USCCB dilatory statement on the occasion of Biden’s inauguration. Evidently, Cupich is shocked—shocked!—that the statement reminds us that “we are Catholics first.”

At the secularized church, attendees will hear nothing to trouble their already-lax consciences about authentic moral doctrine. The specious preaching there extols privacy of conscience, rooted in a spiritually seditious, permissive theology celebrating a fraudulent freedom. Attendees will encounter no priests to worry them about sin and salvation (cf. Ez 33:7-9), and they will rub shoulders with no one asking difficult ethical questions about current legislation or public policy. Yet they will still imperiously claim to be devout, ensuring that they, like Edward Kennedy, will receive ostensibly Catholic funeral masses and burial in consecrated ground after fulsome eulogies. It is, of course, a satanic illusion, for God is not mocked (Gal 6:7).

The roster of famous sham Catholics is not just long; it now constitutes a majority of believers who, for fifty years, have heard little else than a theologically devitalized and morally deracinated proclamation of the faith which comes to us from the Apostles. Many of these people are, of course, wicked; others, however, are in fact well-meaning people but utterly theologically ignorant, or morally indolent. The result is that our land is “full of idols” (Isaiah 2:8).   

We have now a president who is Catholic by baptism. We have six justices (Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Sotomayor, Kavanaugh, and Barrett) who profess to be Catholic (and Gorsuch was “raised Catholic”). About 30% of Congress is Catholic (as are about 21% of adult Catholics). Should we therefore expect public policy to be truly grounded in enduring Catholic moral principles? If you correctly say “no,” then you understand the baleful influence and the pervasive power of the secularized church, which is a looming menace the likes of which we have never seen before. It is massive, with tentacles reaching into every diocese, every Catholic college and seminary, and almost every catechetical instrument now extant. It now seeks to redefine both who legitimate Catholics are and what orthodoxy is—and its redefinition is debauched.

The secularized church betrays Catholicism. Its priests and prelates desire approval from the power elite, not from God (cf. John 12:43). Its doctrine is this-worldly (e.g., “climate change”), with precious little worry about the salvation of souls (no hell—no worry!), and concerned principally, if not exclusively, with a metastasized spirit of social justice and “liberation,” utterly forgetting the admonition of Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975: #32): 

[Those wishing to commit the Church to social justice and liberation] are frequently tempted to reduce her mission to the dimensions of a simply temporal project. They would reduce her aims to a man-centered goal; the salvation of which she is the messenger would be reduced to material well-being. Her activity, forgetful of all spiritual and religious preoccupation, would become initiatives of the political or social order. But if this were so, the Church would lose her fundamental meaning. Her message…would easily be open to monopolization and manipulation by ideological systems and political parties.

Can we imagine that the saving message of Christ’s one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic church might be “open to monopolization and manipulation by…political parties?” Is that not exactly what has happened? Is that not exactly the story of the rise of the secularized church, which tells us whatever the prevailing socialist ideologues want, and demand, to hear? Is that not exactly the path to perdition we have chosen by accepting theological siren-songs from a secular church—where there is no sorrow but only mirth; where is no warning about sin, but only advertisements for pleasure; where there is no ultimate hell, but only a politicized heaven; and where religious faith in our benevolent God dissolves into obsequious trust in our omnipotent government?

And many, so very many, bishops and priests congratulate, commend, or condone this charade either by active participation or consensual silence. In lovingly approving the counterfeit church, they betray our Lord with a kiss.

In our quest to have vacuous, bland, and jejune religion (but with merry music and happy homilies), permitting us to do whatever we will, we have done to ourselves what no would-be conqueror, to date, has ever been able to do: render ourselves utterly stupid by the narcotic of an insipid, incompetent, and iniquitous caricatured religion. We are idolaters, willingly and gladly imprisoned by Narcissistic seizures. 

That such idolatry leads to doom, we do not understand; nor do we care (Ps 115:8, 135:18; Wisdom 14:27): “Outside the city [of God] are the perverts and those who practice magic, the immoral and the murderers, those who worship idols, and those who are liars both in words and deeds” (Rev 22:15; cf. Mt 8:12). Marx was right, after all: the secularized religion has become the opium of the (Catholic) people.

Still, there are those—there will ever be those, for we have His indefeasible promise—who say, with the judicious Richard Hooker (1554-1600): “Posterity may know we have not loosely through silence permitted things to pass away as in a dream.” Despite the apostasy swirling around us, we believe, too, in Our Lady’s sweet prophecy: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

[Photo Credit: Omar Marques/Getty Images]

Deacon James H. Toner

By

Deacon James H. Toner, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Air War College, a former U.S. Army officer, and author of Morals Under the Gun and other books. He has also taught at Notre Dame, Norwich, Auburn, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He serves in the Diocese of Charlotte.

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